Imagine you visited your property, and right from the driveway, you heard music coming from your supposedly vacant property. The most shocking thing is that the occupants claim to be the owner. Now you understand what was happening — Squatters have taken over your home!
What should you do about this?
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about squatters, how to prevent squatters from gaining access to your home, how to get rid of squatters, and so on. But before this, let’s define who squatters are.
What is a Squatter?
A squatter is an illegal occupant that intentionally occupies your property without your consent or a legal obligation. Professional squatters come intending to take over your property after living there for a certain period. A squatter can be someone from out of state, evicted tenant, a roommate, or an innocent person who falls for a rental scam.
One thing to note is that squatters have rights under the law. That means you can’t force them out of your home — you need to evict them. And surprisingly, if you don’t act fast, a squatter can legally become the property owner.
In the next section, we’ll discuss different ways that squatters can gain access to your property.
How Do Squatters Gain Access to a Property?
While you may not know when squatters get into your property, it’s no surprise that they moved in through some means. Here we’ll discuss some of the ways these illegal occupants can get into your property.
A tenant might refuse to leave your property after their lease expires. Or even a subtenant that has no legal obligation to you may decide to stay behind after their lease contract end. Since you perform a move-out inspection on your property, how will an occupant stay behind without you knowing?
The trick is that the tenant may pack out immediately when their lease ends to evade move-out inspection. And after the inspection, they may move back in. And because they are also familiar with the property, they’d know how to trick utility companies into switching on the services for them.
When a property is vacant for a period, and the property owner is not frequent with inspection, this set of people can break in and take over the property.
The most surprising thing is that most professional squatters know how to trick utility company, by using fake lease agreements, to turn on the utilities for them.
Rental Fraud Victim
While the types of squatters mentioned above can intentionally choose to occupy your property, this category of squatters is a victim of rental fraud. They are unintentionally squatting on your property without them knowing.
A fake landlord that poses to be the owner of your property may rent your property to them, provide them with a fake lease agreement, and collect the first rental fee before disappearing. And unless you tell them, they may not know about it.
What’s a Squatter’s Right?
Squatters are real, and they’re everywhere around the US. These illegal occupants have rights under the law. So even if you’re the rightful owner of the squatted property, you need to go through legal processes to evict a squatter. And this makes it very difficult and frustrating for most victims.
A squatter’s right, also known as adverse possession, is the law that protects illegal occupants and allows them to become the rightful owner of your property if they stay in it for an extended period. All US states have laws that protect squatters, although these laws differ from one state to the other. Before professional squatters can become the rightful owner, here are things they must fulfill:
- Hostile, i.e., they must occupy the property without permission or any legal obligation between them and the property owner.
- Actual. It means these illegal occupants must be physically living in the property for a certain period.
- Open and Notorious. It must be apparent that the squatter is living there. That is, neighbors and passersby should notice from afar that someone resides on the property.
- The illegal occupant must inhabit the property for a specific period. Although the squatter’s right is available in every state, the rule differs from one state to the other. For more information on squatter’s rights in all states, check out the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA).
So to avoid squatters from taking over your property, you need to get them out as soon as you discover their presence. That’s because removing them after they’ve spent a long time in the property will require more work and may sometimes be impossible. So, how
In the next section, we’ll discuss how to get rid of squatters from your property.
Processes of Evicting Squatters From Your Property
Ordinarily, removing squatters from property shouldn’t be a problem. But because they’re protected by the law, evicting these illegal occupants can be stressful. Removing these foreigners is like evicting bad tenants from your property — both parties need to be evicted.
And based on the general understanding of eviction, it’s time-consuming, stressful, and requires you to spend more money. While bad tenants can’t take over your property, squatters can gain legal ownership of your property if they meet the ownership requirements. So what are the steps you must take to evict professional squatters from your property? Here is how to get rid of squatters.
Report to the Police
If you discover someone is occupying your property without your consent, you should contact the local law enforcement. Apart from being on the safer side, filing a report with law enforcement can be used as evidence in the future during the eviction process. Your police report will serve as proof that you make an effort to work things out with the illegal occupant. And that you didn’t try to remove them from the property with force.
Moreover, reporting to the local police can also help you avoid unnecessary stress. The police will determine if the individual is a squatter or a trespasser. And this would help you decide if it’s a civil matter or a legal issue.
You should also note that you should not turn off the utility (electricity, water, gas, etc.) or change the locks until the squatters leave or after the eviction process.
Serve the Squatter an Eviction Letter
Just like removing unethical tenants from your property, getting rid of squatters need to go through the eviction route. That means after reporting them to the law enforcement, and they let you know that it’s a civil matter, your next process is to serve them an eviction notice, which is also known as Unlawful Detainer.
The eviction notice or unlawful detainer is generally a quit notice served by the property owner to terminate the rental agreement and legal obligation between them and the tenant. However, the purpose of eviction notice for squatters is to notify them. It also serves as proof to the court that you do the necessary things.
Note that the requirement for serving squatters an unlawful detainer or eviction notice differs by state. So it’s necessary to talk to a legal practitioner with experience in this field for guidance.
File for an Eviction Lawsuit
If the squatter refuses to leave after receiving the notices, then you should file a lawsuit. Filing for an eviction lawsuit can be technical, and the requirements for the processes are different for each state. That means you might need to work with an eviction attorney (that specializes and has experience in this type of situation) to ensure you’re doing things the right way.
Also, note that going through the eviction route attracts some expenses, like attorney’s and eviction filing fees, and other necessary court expenses.
Depose the Squatters’ Possession Legally
Congratulations! The court has provided a verdict that you still own the property and that the foreigner should evacuate. But you still need to know that squatters have rights — you shouldn’t use force. Let law enforcement do their job of removing them from your property.
Moreover, even if the illegal occupant leaves your property, they may likely leave their possessions behind. And if this is the case, you need to get rid of their belongings in a legal way. Most state requires the property owner to notify the squatters before removing their property. The problem now is: how would you locate the illegal occupants after they leave the property? And How to remove squatters’ possession legally?
To avoid this problem, take the property removal notice to the court hearing. However, if the foreigner has left and you have no one to give the notify, the court may allow you to publish the notice or paste it on the property. If you’re confused about what to do, ask your attorney for help.
How do You Prevent From Taking Over Your Property
Like the famous saying: “prevention is better than cure.” It means preventing a squatter from gaining access to your property is better than trying to remove them after they’ve gained access. If a squatter occupies your property, eviction is stressful — you need to act fast, spend money, and go through a very stressful situation. So instead of going through the stress, you should prevent squatters from taking over your property. Here are things you can do to prevent them instead of looking for how to get rid of squatters.
Post a “No Trespassing” sign on your property
Posting a “No trespassing” sign on the doors, gates, and visible part of your property will vend off illegal occupants from your property. Even if they gain access to your property, they’ll be trespassers.
Frequently Visit Your Property
Another way to ensure no one is illegally occupying your property is by monitoring the property. Ensure you visit the property regularly. With this, you’d know when there’s a problem.
Make Friends with your Neighbor
Even if you don’t live on your property and you’re not available to regularly visit the property, another way to monitor the property is to make friends with neighbors. With this, you can be sure to have your property under surveillance. And when there is any intrusion, they’d report to you immediately. With this, you’d prevent them from accessing your property in the first place and won’t be looking for how to get squatters out.
Fill Vacant Properties ASAP
A vacancy is one of the factors that attract professional squatters to a property. Therefore fill your property as soon as the previous tenant moves out to prevent squatters from occupying your property.
Screen Tenant Before Signing the Lease Agreement
Like we already discussed above, an unscrupulous tenant can turn to a squatter if they choose not to leave your property after their lease expires. So to avoid this, you should do a thorough background check and research on their rental history. By this, you can also prevent them instead of looking for how to get a squatter out of your house.
As you can see from our discussion above, squatting is a serious problem. And the squatters’ rights made it even worse for the landlord to get rid of them. So instead of trying to remove them after they’ve gained access to your property, it’s better to ensure they don’t have access to the property at all.
However, if they already have access to your property, and you need to evict them, follow the above process on how to get rid of squatters and ensure your every move of removing squatters is legal. Remember Squatters also have rights, So be patient with the process!
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